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Research suggests potential cause of HIV-associated dementia and depression

Symptoms of depression and dementia among HIV patients could be attributed to the viruses ability to kill off neurons in the brain, according to a small study from Georgetown University Medical Center. The research, led by Italo Mocchetti, PhD, was recently published (subscription required) in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Mocchetti found that the virus destroys neurons by attacking their source of protein growth, known as mature brain-derived neurotrophic factor (mature BDNF). PsychCentral explains:

Their scientific break came when they were able to study the blood of 130 women who were enrolled in the 17-year-old, nationwide Women’s Interagency HIV Study. In one discovery, Mocchetti and colleagues found that when there was less BDNF in the blood, patients were at risk of developing brain abnormalities.

“The link between depression and lack of mature BDNF is also known, as is the link to issues of learning and memory,” he said. “That’s why I say HIV-associated dementia resembles the aging brain.”

Loss of mature BDNF has also been suggested to be a risk factor in chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, Mocchetti says.

Researchers say the findings could lead to the development of new therapeutic interventions, which may also be useful in treating patients suffering from other brain ailments that appear to develop in the same way such as the elderly.

Previously: Looking at the HIV/AIDS epidemic’s effect on black Americans and The 'ethical odyssey' of an HIV trial
Photo by Sander van der Wel


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